Communities and The Police Research Paper

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One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade

Chinese Proverb

This research paper considers how research has come to understand the idea of “community” and its implication for civic governance, most particularly in respect to the public police. At the same time, this research paper considers what has been learned about the role that each (community and the police) plays in the loosely connected network of social control, and the implications of communities’ characteristics and processes for policing more broadly, as well as for their capacity to validate the law and the police.

For several years, reformers, community advocates, and policy makers have emphasized that communities have broader roles to play in policing (Greene 2000). This prompts a consideration of whether communities can indeed coproduce public safety, particularly in residential neighborhoods, and what constrains or facilitates communities in adopting such roles? Lastly, in a late-modern world the question arises, “Can we expect communities to be fully engaged in such activities, or have our notions of social cohesion and integration been inextricably altered?” Such questions explore the ways in which communities contribute to policing, broadly cast, and the limitations or restraints on such contributions.

This research paper considers the idea of “community” as a central concept of social theory, more specifically in crime theory, the ways that the idea of community has evolved, and the implications of such evolution for social control and policing. It is an attempt to address what are often juxtaposed ideas: the mechanisms of informal (community) and formal (police) social control and how they impact one another in neighborhood settings. It also addresses the idea that to be effective and accepted, legal sanctions and legal actors need community validation and support, particularly in democratic societies, posing an additional criterion of institutional legitimacy in the discussion of the interactions between community and police. This research paper first considers shifting conceptions of community and how they are related to crime and crime control theories. Second, the focus shifts to how the police have come to the idea of community attachment, and some of the complexities of such interactions. Third, this research paper considers how police and communities form alliances for crime prevention and what evidence supports the effectiveness of such an approach. And, lastly a consideration of whether there is a broader role for the community in such matters is undertaken.

The Community Perspective: Key Issues

The impersonal hand of government can never replacethe helping hand of a neighbor

Hubert H. Humphrey

The idea of the community or gemeinschaft was introduced in the late 1800s by Ferdinand Tonnies (1887), a German sociologist. Tonnies’ Gemeinschaft refers to associations among individuals that orient their identity and behavior to the common mores, customs, and beliefs helping to unify the collective, what he referred to as the “unity of will.” Being part of this collective, bound by shared beliefs and shared places, undergirds ideas about what it means to be part of a community. While the family is often seen as the model for Gemeinschaft, other associations not based on birth status include communities defined by proximity, as well as those more dispersed, yet connected by beliefs or association (Gesellschaft). It was Tonnies’ central contention that modern societies gradually moved from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft; from groups based on primary associations (such as kin and close neighbors) to secondary associations (such as workgroups).

In such arrangements, social action, as defined by Weber (1991), takes into consideration the behavior of others, orienting social and group relations. Communities shape and reinforce social relations, providing identity and meaning to those in the community. The idea of community, then, is a social construction, creating shared social realities and interpretations among members, and orienting individuals to others, typically through face-to-face interaction. Such conceptions of community have historical referents, the applications of which are not always clear in the modern world. Nonetheless, the notion of the Gemeinschaft community in the conceptions of Tonnies and Weber persists, symbolically and nostalgically.

In discussions of what “community” means, a prime consideration is the type and strength of solidarity in social relations, and the type and degree of social integration in a society. Solidarity, it is said, binds people to social relations (their neighbors and external others) outside the immediate family, and the level and strength of solidarity produces a range in group cohesion and collective identity. Durkheim (1949) was concerned with how to reconcile individual autonomy and collective action in society, that is, how the social order takes shape and is maintained. Durkheim (1949) distinguished between mechanical and organic solidarity as ways in which the social order and social cohesion are affected by the division of labor. In simple societies, kinship and shared values produce social cohesion (“conscience collective”) and solidarity, generally through “likeness,” that is, the similarity of people in social groups. In more complex societies, an organic solidarity is produced by linking of people through similar work, educational backgrounds, religious affiliation, or lifestyle. Social solidarity, then, arises through kinship ties as well as broader affiliations associated with work or through the interdependence of social arrangements, producing a range of communities, the older ones structured by close ties, and more modern communities being loosely coupled.

The idea of community has been explored from many perspectives, most of which see communities as having dense social and emotional connections, a sense of shared norms and beliefs, social reciprocity, and varying degrees of social responsiveness (Day 2005) (i.e., the Gemeinschaft’ type). Of course, most of these characteristics of communities are also shaped by close geographic proximity – people living together.

While there is considerable variation in discussions about the most central elements of community, and how these elements have been transformed in the modern and late-modern worlds, the layperson conception of community persists; a collection of persons who share membership (sometimes tightly, sometime loosely) in a social grouping, often but not exclusively constrained by geography, and reinforced by social integration, accommodation, and responsiveness. Whether such definitions can persist in a cyber-networked world or in the face of declining community affiliation remains an open question. Nonetheless, over the past 35 years or so, governments have been systematically reorienting themselves, symbolically if not substantially to better integrate themselves within communities. The rise of the community-government era, with community-health, community-education, community safety, and community policing, among others, is a testament to the power of the idea of community in social, political, and economic life.

Criminology has embraced the idea of community influences in crime for many years, beginning with the work of Shaw and McKay (1942) and continuing to the present. Ideas about crime, most particularly its community roots, suggest that social cohesion in neighborhood or community settings shapes the collective efficacy of that neighborhood, or the level of trust among neighbors, as well as their willingness to intervene in matters of local social control (Sampson et al. 1997). Collective efficacy expresses the idea of neighborhood social cohesion, but perhaps in a less complex and intense way than is the case in previous ideas about community social cohesion. Here the focus is on situated neighborhood collective action rather than broader images of community social action and responsiveness emerging from deep emotional and social bonds. In the modern case, collective efficacy is situational and focused, not broadly cast and diffuse. Nonetheless, the effects of concentrated disadvantage and residential instability with violence are largely mediated by collective efficacy (Sampson et al. 1997).

Collective efficacy also speaks to the ability of communities to exercise whatever social capital is available, that is, to leverage social relations through cooperation and confidence building to achieve larger collective ends. Whereas collective efficacy can be seen as the strength in horizontal bonds between neighbors, social capital can been seen as the capacity of local social networks to vertically integrate within larger political, economic, and social networks, thereby achieving or maximizing local benefit. Knowing something about the level of collective efficacy and social capital in communities, then, tells us something about how that community manages its social affairs and with what effects. Of course, socially dysfunctional and disorganized communities lack both conditions, often succumbing to deviance and criminality, but this occurs in degrees and over time can change.

Community dynamics, then, shape local affiliation and orientations toward collective action, as well as strengthen social networks beyond the local community. From the perspective of modern policing, increasing community collective efficacy and social capital strengthens local social control, the first line of defense in matters of deviance, social disorder, and crime. So as a strategic matter, supporting the development of community collective efficacy and social capital should occupy police attention.

However, as discussed below, policing is not particularly well equipped to directly engage in “community building” other than, perhaps, to attempt to control unruly and disorganized places in the hope of creating an envelope in which community cohesion can grow and strengthen. While it has been argued that community policing has the potential for creating trust in the police, thereby raising community collective efficacy, the conundrum for modern policing is how to use formal processes to support the informal development of “community,” or at least some representation of local social control that can strengthen neighbor-to-neighbor bonds, and build social capital. These are difficult arrangements to support. If socially disorganized communities are characterized by poverty, population heterogeneity, transience, and disorderly and criminal conduct, then addressing first-order conditions, such as controlling the streets by the police, does not necessarily lead to improving the stability of these areas. Oftentimes aggressive police action in communities produces mixed responses, with some supporting police interventions and others not. Moreover, it is not clear that in pursuing partnerships with “the community,” police and community values can actually align (Thacher 2001).

Moreover, in undertaking such an approach, how communities react to police interventions is not well understood, particularly in light of variations in community composition, structure, and level of social disorganization. How the range of communities are to “partner” with outside agencies is also problematic, given the general findings that (1) identifying a clear voice for community representation is problematic, (2) and community participation in crime-oriented activities and meetings wanes over time.

Understanding what internal community capacities to coproduce local public safety are present and how these capacities (if they exist at all) can be enhanced and sustained are also topics with sparse intellectual and program attention. Lastly, two questions bearing on these matters remain unanswered, (1) what is the tipping point, when communities slide into a place where their capacity to participate in crime prevention erodes substantially, and conversely, (2) what is the tipping point when community social integration is sufficient to create collective efficacy and social capital, thereby enabling communities to engage effectively in such matters?

Such questions assume that police are adept in helping communities build capacity. As Goodman his and colleagues in attempting tomeasure community capacity in health care interventions (1998, 260) suggested, such capacities include “participation and leadership, resources, social and inter-organizational networks, sense of community, understanding of community history, community power, community values, and critical reflection.” Such a wide range of community developmental capabilities are likely beyond the capacity of the police to build, but in partnerships with other community serving agencies, such capacities might be improved. This remains a major obstacle in creating effective police and public crime prevention partnerships, most especially in the communities who need such interventions the most.

Communities As Geographic Or Ecological Areas

A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you overthe back fence, but doesn’t climb over it

Arthur Baer

The idea of community has evolved considerably over the years. In some ways, it is a rather elastic concept, a broad umbrella idea expressing patterns of social communication, interaction, and value acquisition in any number of settings. Nonetheless, at its root, it has always implied propinquity, that is, people living together in the same social space, creating patterns of social interaction, from which meaning is derived. In the study of deviance and crime, ecological criminology has centered on the level of community organization, collective efficacy, and social capital as important determinants of effective community action in stemming delinquency and crime (Bursik and Grasmick 1998). The ecological and social-psychological traditions of the Chicago School identify community dysfunction as a primary inhibitor to social control, suggesting that community building could be an important attribute of police-neighborhood policy. Simply put, geography matters, as crime varies geographically, often most prevalent in places ill equipped to marshal social control.

Like criminals, places have criminogenic characteristics. That is to say, some places like some people account for a high incidence of crime and social disorder. Armed with this evidence, the police have identified crime ”hot spots” and attempted to systematically address them, often through aggressive police tactics. The evidence on “hot spots” suggests that targeted police interventions in constrained areas evidencing high rates of crime and social disorganization result in crime reduction, with mixed evidence as to whether some crimes are displaced to adjoining areas, or rather whether such adjoining areas enjoy a “diffusion of benefit,” that is, a similar reduction in crime to the target areas (Weisburd and Braga 2006; Ratcliffe et al. 2011).

While the research literature on the suppression effects of “hot spots” policing has garnered considerable police support and academic attention, more often than not such approaches fail to improve community social networking capacities. Rather, crime is aggressively pursued sometimes displacing its effects to other neighborhoods and sometime not. As it turns out, getting and sustaining community participation in neighborhood policing or community crime prevention efforts is quite difficult (see Skogan and Hartnett 1997, 110–160). This is especially the case in communities where social capital and collective efficacy are in short supply. Moreover, in these same communities, the police and the public are not always in agreement as to what the police should do, nor do they share the same value sets (Thacher 2001). While geography has become a major tool for the analysis of crime, most police responses rely on the police, not the community, for addressing crime and disorder problems, and often through the application of aggressive police tactics. Where the community is not fully “on board” with such actions, or when they are sprung on the community problems emerge, and the legitimacy of the police is called into question. From an analytic and practical perspective geography matters, but what to do with that geography (often referred to as a “community”), is not particularly clear. Moreover, it also appears that in communities where police legitimacy is low, the police are more likely to use force (Kane 2005).

Communities Of Interest: Breaking Geographic Boundaries

Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks

Author Unknown

Consistent with Durkheim’s idea of organic solidarity, the modern world is less linked by what were presumed to be deep social and emotional ties at the community level, and more through affiliations associated with work or personal interest. Some have pointed to a significant decline in community affiliation in civic affairs (Putnam 2000) in the latter half of the twentieth century, some of which is related to technological advances in social networking, that is, linking with others, often absent face-to-face interaction.

In a world marked by social networks, the idea of communities has shifted from place to ideas, life styles, near-instant electronic communication, and social fragmentation. Whereas once to be in a community, people actually had to meet, talk, and share their interests, now from the comfort of their own homes, people participate in social communities that span the globe, and perhaps not with the negative side effects of social isolation.

Communities of interests can be organized functionally, for example, business districts or other commercial areas; while being proximate to one another, they are not systematically engaged. Communities can be more dispersed, involving what is now called membership in affinity groups organized to work together but not in a hierarchical way, but rather in a more flexible and decentralized way. Such groups have the characteristics of coalitions, individuals linked to group identities and norms selectively and with indeterminacy, that is, participating in the coalition to the extent that group membership achieves the individual’s goals or fosters identity. Such groups are transient, they ebb and flow episodically and they are formed and abandoned as identities shift or one’s sense of group affiliation diminishes.

In a Durkheimian sense, such groups do not exhibit mechanical solidarity; rather, they pivot from one form of organic solidarity to another, expressing some social cohesion, but often with limited time horizons. Nonetheless, social networks are social structures (individuals, groups, organizations, nation states) connected by interdependencies, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge, or prestige. Studies have identified social networks at many levels of social organization, and have demonstrated that social networks are important in determining the ways problems are identified and get solved, as well as the ways network members achieve their goals and understand their social conditions, that is, how they make sense of circumstances and then act upon them. Such social networking also provides for cultural transmission better linking social network and social culture analysis.

Policing As A Community Activity

The police are the public and the public are thepolice; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give fulltime attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interestsof community welfare and existence

Robert Peel

Policing has always been a community activity whether or not formally acknowledged. As part of the social control continuum, the police are intimately connected to community notions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, order and disorder, as well as interpretations of lawfulness and deviance. In turn, the police, the formal apparatus of the state, are directed through representative processes to evenhandedly enforce the law with public support for such enforcement. While the public rarely has a formal referendum on police activity (although news accounts and public protests do occur), people routinely assess the legitimacy of the law and law enforcement – both substantive and procedural justice (Tyler 2006). They seek fairness in the law and in its application.

In democratic societies, the social contract authorizes government to provide an envelope of security, safety, and access for the populace, and expects people to conform to social and legal expectations. As a consequence, governments regulate many forms of social, political, and economic behavior, including those associated with deviance and crime. At the same time, members of the society generally comport with social expectations emphasizing the observance of duly constituted law and social regulation. From a criminological perspective, self-control theory suggests that early socialization and social learning involving the acquisition of values, norms and beliefs, increases self-control, and thereby reduces deviance and crime. Of course, social learning has an important community context as well.

Shaw and McKay (1942) found that delinquency increased in neighborhoods characterized by poor economic conditions, ethnic heterogeneity, and residential instability, the structural correlates of crime. Such neighborhoods were said to be socially disorganized and therefore less capable of controlling delinquent behavior. Refinements of these ideas suggest that individual, family, neighborhood, and community identities are at the forefront of social control, and where communities are socially disorganized, lacking collective efficacy and social capital such identities are the most vulnerable (Sampson and Groves 1989) and at risk.

But even in socially disorganized places, a fragile community precedes the police in matters of social regulation and social control, whether done well or not. Simply put, the community is there first, at the forefront of observing, confronting, and sometimes shaping social behavior, pro-social, deviant, and criminal. While communities are legally discouraged from vigilantism or other aggressive self-protective methods, it is fully anticipated that individuals and communities are self-policing. That is to say, in democratic systems, the state gains compliance, and some degree of social conformity, from the vast majority of its citizens, through consent, not through police force.

From a social-psychological point of view, compliance is conditioned by beliefs about the legitimacy of the state, its laws and its mechanisms of enforcement, as well as social understandings of rightful behavior and personal comportment. This is seen as social and legal conformity or the voluntary aligning of an individual’s behavior with widely held social expectations or norms. Of course, norms may compete with one another across social, economic, and political lines, but generally speaking, conformity involves discerning how others behave and what they expect, and then adjusting one’s behaviors accordingly.

In democratic states, such conformity is arrived through social consensus; in totalitarian states, such compliance is conditioned by fear. In either case, governments require self-policing, that is, a large proportion of the populace conforming to the law and social convention, whatever its genesis. While the police enforce the law typically against law breakers, or those suspected of such behavior, it is individuals in community settings that engage in self-policing as well as social regulation that stems from community interactions and local social ethos. This is not just a matter of philosophy, but also a matter of practicality. There is no way that the police would have enough capacity to enforce the rules, absent informal social control. Police in the USA number about 2.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, and in Europe, the range is from 1 per 500 to 1 per 200. While in either case the police are outnumbered and their capacity to control large populations is circumscribed, it does not really matter how many police there are – it is the very essence of a social grouping that the primary way of ensuring conformity to most rules is through personal and informal social control, resulting in self-policing.

The distinction between “police” and “policing” that is made here is important, as the former involves activities of government, while the latter refers to a wide range of individual, civic, private, and public arrangements, each of which contributes to preventing, deterring, or otherwise shaping crime and social deviance. In simple terms, the police are charged with maintaining law and order, while policing is too big to be left to the police alone. On its’ broadest scale, “policing” is another term for “maintaining conformity” or ensuring that most of the people follow most of the rules most of the time. So, as a matter of practice many, not few, are involved in policing (Loader 2000). While much of the rhetoric and program focus regarding police crime prevention has been in residential community settings susceptible to crime, other forms of policing permeate residential, commercial, military, recreational, and industrial communities, more broadly, in what Brodeur (2010, 17–42) has called the “web of policing.”

Ironically, it is interesting to note that while policing can be seen as having deep connections to community norms, sentiments, and ethos, historically, the police have had a passive aggressive relationship with their civic constituents. That is to say in several times and places, formalized policing has evidenced an institutional “personality,” revealing a pattern of negative attitudes toward the community, accompanied by resistant behavior in the face of community calls for change (Greene 2000).

The police have been the object of reform for more than a century; some reforms have improved policing and police organizations while others have been resisted with prevailing functions and structures unaltered (Mastrofski and Willis 2011). And, of course, in some instances, the police flatly reject ideas associated with community coproduction of public safety and community/police partnerships (Lyons 2002; Herbert 2006). Such rejection has been most evident in communities of color, or those marginalized by ethnicity or economics, in part as a rejection of community capacities or willingness to work with the police but also as a reflection of resistance to police institutional change. In either case, such complexity speaks to the likelihood of the police and community working together on matters of local crime control and social order as being more episodic than permanent.

Policing In Search Of Community

It is vain to talk of the interest of thecommunity, without understanding what is the interest of the individual

Jeremy Bentham

While it has been important for policing to consider its “community roots,” those roots are complicated by individual variation in values and concerns within any geographic place. Managing value conflict in communities and in larger political settings is a major undertaking in the process of governance. Communities rarely speak with one voice. Consequently, assessing community dynamics is a necessary condition to understanding the underlying value consonance and dissonance in a communal setting. As the police search for “community,” they must be wary not to be drawn from one community voice, over others, lest their credibly in the community be compromised.

Moreover, having a police who see themselves as “citizens in uniform” rather than as an occupying force is also a critical component in gaining community acceptance. Organized public policing from its onset recognized that the “police are the public and the public the police” a quote attributed to Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police of London, the forerunner of modern-day policing. Like the military, the police are “citizens in uniform,” a democratic governance idea meaning that the police and the military draw their resources – human, financial, and normative – from the body politic. Correspondingly, the police and the military owe allegiance and fidelity to the society in which they are deeply embedded. Neither the police nor the military “occupy” their civic sponsorship, for to do so would break the social contract empowering democratic governance, while also turning government on the civic body.

In a rather ironic way, the modern police have escaped their community foundations. Instead, the formal and social organization of the police has been distanced from those to be policed despite the anticipated relationship between democratic government and the body politic. There are many reasons for the police to take some distance from the public, some related to a need for institutional and legal independence, and some related to police fear of oversight and public criticism. In either case, policing, a community-focused activity, has gravitated from informal means of social control, to public police as a visible and formal mechanism to achieve the same ends, while at the same time drifting from a close affinity between public and police to one that is often strained, especially in marginal communities. Simply put, public policing has its greatest challenges of connecting with marginal communities when the community and the police do not trust one another. Such social distance poses considerable barriers for the police to lead community renewal efforts.

To some such distancing may seem appropriate to the extent that the impartial enforcement of the law and other formal social regulation under democratic principles requires that the enforcers of the law maintain independence, lest their actions seem biased, or politically motivated. When policing becomes an adjunct to local politics, it divides civic membership between those to be supported and those to be opposed. In the earliest formations of policing, particularly in big cities in the USA, the police were clear adjunct to political machines. This has also been the case in nearly every history of Western policing to one degree or another (see, Critchley 1978). Calls for “taking the politics” out of policing stress the occupational and political distancing of the police and the public, at least symbolically, if not substantively most particularly for the purpose of reducing overt politics in police decision making and practice.

Police grasp of the professional mantel also helped to distance professional from client, while at the same time affirming the status of the professional. As the public police have sought public recognition as a profession, so too have those to be policed become distanced from those doing the policing. This is rather ironic, as historically the police came from the very classes that formal policing seeks to oversee and control.

Finding the appropriate distance (or closeness) of the police and the public has been complicated and at times elusive. Should the police become too close to the public, fear of the corrupting influences of community takes center stage; if the police are seen as too distant from the public, fear of an independent and repressive police rise. So, a too close or too distant police invariably raises concerns of politics and accountability; to who are the police accountable and by what methods?

Despite efforts to distance the police from the public, the police are inherently captured by the social contexts in which they find themselves including those of community life. Policing is localized, it occurs somewhere – neighborhood, highway, business district, or back ally. The social contours of these places shape police actions within them, as the police have and continue to use perceptual shorthand in understanding places as well as the people that inhabit them. Moreover, several have commented on the emergent styles of police that are associated with types of communities.

Such distancing from the public can have adverse consequences as well. Since the times of Sir Robert Peel, it has been recognized that an acceptable public police must engender the respect and trust of the public, lest they be seen as agent provocateurs or spies. Given that the police are outnumbered, meaning there are more of us then them, public order and community safety require that people police themselves, as well as through a complex system of regulation provided from other agencies, public and civic. That is to say, behavior is partly shaped by the police and partly by the labyrinth of social and institutional regulation part of modern society.

Today, we are regulated from many quarters, some focused on deviance and criminality, but most on broader issues of social regulation (education, health, recreation, and the like) and public management (zoning, taxation, product control, and the like). The role of communities in the web of social regulation under such circumstances is not always clear. Once the bastion of social affiliation and hence social control, communities have been transformed in the post-modern world such that community influence in regulating social behavior is often fragmented and diffuse.

Still policing needs community support to be both effective and legitimate. From the perspective of police effectiveness, it has long been recognized that police are largely mobilized by the community. That is to say, policing in response to community needs is significantly affected by the community’s capacity and willingness to seek police assistance. While patrol responses to troubled neighborhoods seek to provide support for “hot spots,” knowing where the “hot spots” are, and more importantly what they mean, requires community input. “Hot spots” are based on crime reports, and community members or businesses are the necessary ingredient for reporting crime and other worrisome behavior. Absent community amplification of crime and social problems leading to crime through the identification of crime situations and reporting them, the police would be responsible for detecting crime and/or the circumstances underlying crime independently. This is not the model of public policing most have come to understand. So, if a community lacks the capacity or will to contact the police about criminal victimization, unruly neighborhood circumstances, or business concerns, the police have little in the way of focusing their efforts on particular places, problems, or circumstances. In this way, the police are highly dependent on the community to learn about crime.

Of course what motivates community involvement with the police is a belief that the police can do something to improve circumstances and a level of trust that the police will respond appropriately. Community acceptance of police legitimacy sets the underlying conditions of not only police mobilization, but also acceptance of the police as a source of support, cooperation, or collaboration. Unfortunately, in many socially disorganized communities which often also experience high crime, civic trust of the police is low (for a review, see, Weitzer 2000). What we know about police activity in socially disorganized neighborhoods suggests that the police behave differently there as compared to more stable and/ or more affluent communities. Those behaviors are to under-or over-police these neighborhoods, leading to much community dissatisfaction with the police and complaints about police misuse of authority and force (Weitzer 2000; Kane 2005).

This discussion calls into question our understandings of what it means to be a community, how communities are shaped and in turn shape individuals, and how this social construct – community – actually works. To call for greater police involvement with the community, community mobilization, community coproduction of crime prevention, or community policing assumes a working and generalizable definition of communities, their social and social-psychological dynamics, especially related to social control, and their ability to influence government policies and actions. If police are to work with communities, then issues of representation, communication of interests, capacity, and sustainability arise. In all cases, communities need to have some way to clarify and then represent their interests and communicate them to others. At the same time, these communities need to have some capacity to bring to bear on the problem at hand, in concert with the police and other service providers, and this capacity needs to be sustainable over time.

The Police And The Community: The Complexity Of Alliance

The only purpose for which power can be rightfullyexercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is toprevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is notsufficient warrant

John Stuart Mill

Government alliances with communities are invariably complex. Generally speaking they are asymmetric in terms of power and communication, and likely fraught with concerns about the corruption of government policy or the cooptation of local community sentiment toward the government. Depending on whether one takes a conflict or consensual view of the relationships of people to government, communities as an intermediate social aggregate can come to view government as a benign or oppressive force in daily life. Such views are often stratified by race and social class as well as by prior experience with government agents, most particularly with the police. So building community alliances is a difficult proposition for modern-day policing. It is art and science: art in connecting community interests with government agendas, and science in fitting police actions to community needs and local social tolerances.

Building community-police alliances requires“winning the hearts and minds” of both the police and the community, at least in areas where social control and neighborhood safety are at stake. Of course the rhetoric of community/police partnerships often outstrips the reality, for any number of philosophic, theoretical, and pragmatic reasons (see for example, Mastrofski 2006, 44–73).

At the philosophic level, a fundamental dilemma for democratic policing is public acceptance of the imposition of law by the police (Manning 2010). Moreover, as policing has come to be distanced from communities, most especially in disadvantaged communities, the police have also often come to be viewed as an occupying force in unsettled neighborhoods, at least by portions of that community. Of course, much of what the police do occurs in these often neglected communities, placing the police in distressed and often conflict-ridden areas, where support for the police is at best tentative. And, while the police have often genuinely attempted to assuage community concerns with a range of police interventions, it might be said that the police are always one bad incident away from community criticism. Such a precarious relationship adds tensions to police and community interactions, each seeking to protect individual and institutional dignity, as well as social and institutional legitimacy. These circumstances continue to shape police and community expectations about the others’ motivations, as well as conditioning what is expected of each in securing neighborhoods safety.

The idea of the precariousness of community support for the police is illustrated in a long history of community reactions to police interventions. In assessing the wave of riots that swept across urban America in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the Warren Commission noted that a number of these riots were precipitated by questionable or overly aggressive police actions – actions which ultimately sparked the social unrest witnessed. In a similar fashion in 1991 following the video-taped beating of Rodney King and the riots it sparked, the Christopher Commission documented conflict between the LAPD and racial communities in Los Angeles and widespread distrust of the police. The King incident was perhaps not new to minority communities in Los Angeles, but its widespread viewing not only confirmed others’ experiences, but became a rallying point for community riots in that city.

More recently, police interventions in Oakland, California, in 2011 and other US cities have significantly strained police and community relationships once again. This pattern is not restricted to the USA, similar concerns are apparent in the UK as well (Morrell et al. 2011) where youth reported that some were motivated by wanting “to get back at the police” for the earlier shooting of a young man in Tottanham. Similar findings emerge from assessments of the 2007 Paris riots and the role of the French National Police in dealing with these riots. According to Mouhanna (2009) the federal nature of the French Police Service and most particularly the riot police, the complexity of policing in Paris and its immediate surrounds, and the marginalization of minority communities, particularly Islamic communities in France, all contributed to the French riots. As important, many of these riots were seen as being initially triggered by police actions.

In the USA, starting with the political and administrative reforms of the police during the first half of the twentieth century, and in police adoption of the “professional mantel,” the nexus between local informal social control and its formal counterpart in the public police and law was strained and perhaps even severed. A managerial gloss over policing led to police fixation with response times, case clearance and arrest rates, all efforts of the police, while at the same time ignoring the supposed outcomes of these efforts, namely, safe and secure communities. In large cities, the police responded to community crime in a less than systematic way, and often have to return to the same communities for reasonably speaking the same reoccurring problems. Police were treating the symptoms of community crime and disorder problems, not the underlying sources of those problems (Goldstein 1990). Perhaps more important, the police rarely sought to reinforce community social control norms, portraying such efforts as being ”social work,” not real police work. Such attitudes persist today.

Surely communities continue to constrain social behaviors when and where they can, but massive population shifts and the effects of increased urbanization strained community capacity for social control, especially in large cities. Such strain was accompanied by police laying greater claim to being singularly responsible for controlling crime. Crime was on the rise, social turmoil visibly present, and public fear of victimization daily present. This period witnessed a dramatic shift in crime control expectations and governmental apparatus (Garland 2001).

Beginning in the 1990s, community policing, or variations of it, became a national mantra of the American police (see Greene 2000), ultimately being exported to many parts of the world. The language, symbolism, and programs of community policing have sprung up in urban, suburban, and even rural police departments and ideas associated with community policing became a new orthodoxy for cops.

Simultaneously ambitious and ambiguous, community policing promised to radically change the relationship between the police and the public, by address underlying community problems, and improving the living conditions of neighborhoods. The police were admonished to deal with crime, of course, but also with “community quality of life,” a circumstance thought injured by physical and social incivility, or in the parlance of the times, “broken windows.” The organizing themes of community policing called for law enforcement to be more focused, proactive, and community sensitive, sometimes often competing objectives.

Community policing also suggested significant changes in the social and formal organization of policing. On the level of social organization, community policing was thought to break down the barriers separating the police from the public, thereby impacting formal organization through the use of police generalists and the decentralization of police services, while at the same time inculcating police officers with a broader set of community service ideals seeking to change the social organization of policing as well. Whether community policing simply joined the pantheon of presentational strategies of the police (Manning, 1977) or was an added circumlocution (Klockars, 1988), its political appeal was far reaching. In the US during the 1990s the federal government committed to putting 100,000 community policing officers on the streets and spent nearly $9 billion doing so.

The promises of community policing are many. They include: strengthening the capacity of communities to resist and prevent crime and social disorder; creating a more harmonious relationship between the police and the public including some “power sharing” with respect to police policymaking and tactical priorities; restructuring police service delivery by linking it with other municipal services; reforming of the model of police organization; creating larger and more complex roles for individual police officers; reducing police overreaction and personalizing police services, and increasing civic respect for the police and law through a model emphasizing responsiveness, transparency, and the upholding of democratic values. This new style of policing is said to produce more committed, empowered, and analytic police officers, flatten police hierarchies, and open the process of locally administered justice to those who are often the object of justice decision making. This shift also sought to affirm crime prevention as the ascendant goal of policing, not crime suppression, and in important ways reaffirm the traditional roles of the police (Innes 2007).

While the anticipated outcomes in community policing are indeed broad, there is considerable breadth in the definition of what constitutes community policing as well. The range is rather remarkable, given the centrality of community, often lost in this discussion. Community policing has variously been defined as neighborhood patrol or “policing the patch,” reassurance policing, community involvement in crime prevention activities, as well as zero-tolerance policing strategies seeking to deal with small but reoccurring crime and social disorder, such as panhandling, street-level prostitution, public intoxication, gambling, and less serious property and personal crime. Police crackdowns, sweeps, and aggressive police interventions have also been associated with community policing, to the extent that they are supposed to provide the community with welcomed relief from the tyranny of street thugs and gang members.

Under the rubric of broken windows policing, a wide array of police interventions are linked to improvements in communities, although on closer examination, the community is not participant to these strategies; rather, the community is the target of such strategies. With such concept elasticity, it is perhaps inevitable that many activities seek harbor in community policing symbolizations.

However, strategies which do not engage the community or do so only marginally fail to account for variations in community social integration, and rather focus on the community as criminogenic and therefore warranting aggressive police intervention, generally fail the test of improving community collective efficacy or social capital. In using such police tactics, once the visible and immediate problems (crime) are gone or displaced, the community is rarely seen as in need of continued support. This is all the more problematic as recent research suggests that a small number of communities have a consistent trajectory of crime and social disorder (Weisburd et al. 2004), suggesting that these communities may actually cycle through periods of crisis and remission, only to realize crises again. In some unfortunate ways, broadly cast community policing strategies absent community attachment return us to a previous era of “fire-brigade policing,” that is, showing up after the fire has been reported, as opposed to preventing the fire from its onset. In some important ways, the idea of “community policing” has been high-jacked by historical approaches to policing, saturation patrol, and aggressive police street tactics, masked as community interventions.

Community partnerships with the police are also complicated by the police themselves. There is considerable evidence that the police while publically vocal in support of such connections, privately, within the police occupational culture eschew such community linkages (Herbert 2006). While there are likely many reasons for such contradiction in the public and private faces of police, it is clear that community policing still struggles with “winning the hearts and minds” of line-level police officers, those who would presumably be the front-line boundary spanners in community-police partnerships (Lurigio and Skogan 1994). More recent studies of police attitudes toward community policing suggest that the police do not embrace these ideas, and that police work group cultures either downplay or demean the practice of community policing (Herbert 2006; Lyons 2002).

In other parts of the world, even when community policing practices are observable, the police, when interviewed, cannot articulate the philosophy or the practical implications of community policing. While it is clear that policing in much of the western world has embraced the symbolism of community policing, problem solving, and civic engagement, it is less clear that such ideas have permeated the police organizational and work group cultures, where crime control through aggressive police action continues to dominate police practice.

While it is true that the police struggle to find their footing in the philosophy and implied practices of community policing, so too does the community struggle with its new role in the coproduction of public safety. In some respects, the public is of two minds: The police should continue to “fight crime” when and wherever it appears, but when such actions affect me and my community, the police should become more conciliatory and inclusive. Perhaps, such is the nature of most public policy; collective goods are difficult to individualize, except when you are in need of them or are the object of their interventions. Partnerships require the willingness and capacity of the police and the community to engage in a dialogue on community safety, each bringing a contribution to addressing community crime and disorder problems. While a nostalgic view of community and historical policing may afford some expectation of such capacity, their presence and alignment in today’s world is, of course, more complex.

Policing The Community: The Evidence

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence

David Hume

Community policing is the product of great pessimism and great optimism – pessimism about the police having become estranged from the community and concerns about community/police reconciliation, and optimism that recontextualizing the police in community trappings would ultimately improve neighborhood safety as well as the relationships between the police and the public. Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing in some measure today, policing in the USA and in other parts of the world embraced the idea and programs of “community policing,” a derivation of policing emphasizing, among other things community mobilization against crime and disorder, police connectedness in neighborhood settings where the police had been historically absent, improved police/community interactions and willingness to share information, targeted programs to strengthen community social control and crime resistance, and greater transparency and accountability of the police to the public – big ambitions indeed.

The evidence of the success of such shifts in policing or in police/community partnerships is rather thin. Partly this is the case because community policing interventions have been diffuse in approach and sporadic in application. Partly this is due to concerns with the scientific rigor with which community policing has been assessed. And, part of this struggle to define and measure the implications of community policing can be associated with conceptual or theoretical gaps in how the questions of community policing have been framed.

While there is a rather voluminous literature associated with community policing, the evidence suggests that while such programs may affect fear of crime, they do not impact crime as directly. Moreover, research suggests that improvements to community cohesion stemming from community policing are fleeting (see Taylor 2006). The national evaluation of community policing conducted in the USA (see, Roth and Ryan 2000, 2) found:

Building partnerships with communities by COPS grantees was commonplace in many of the agencies visited but, all too often,partnerships were in name only or simply standard, temporary workingarrangements. Most visited agencies did some form of problem solving, but formand visibility varied widely from agency to agency. In observed sites, crimeprevention efforts abounded primarily manifested as traditional programs nowsubsumed under the community policing label.

The struggles of community policing are conceptual and operational. They involve assumptions about the capacity and willingness of the police and the community to work with each other. They also invoke ideas about community life and police agency receptivity to change which are tenuous at best. Finally, they require considerable investment to accomplish, as well as a reorientation of what we mean by partnership and neighborhood safety.

Is There A Broader Role For Communities In Policing?

A community is like a ship; everyone ought to beprepared to take the helm

Henrik Ibsen

In the search for a more defined and anchored role for communities in the prevention of crime and in responding to crime and social disorder, many questions arise. These questions largely ask about the inclination and capacity of communities to engage with the public police in establishing greater levels of social control, most particularly in areas where such controls are weak or do not exist. Moreover, these questions seek to better understand the working parameters of community coproduction to assure that the community does not become absent from such discussion (community crime control) or entirely responsible for neighborhood public safety (for example, see Taylor 2006).

So, do communities have broader roles to play in policing? Can these communities coproduce public safety, particularly in residential neighborhoods? What constrains or facilitates communities in adopting such roles? And, in a late-modern world, can communities be expected to be fully engaged in such activities, or have notions of social cohesion and integration been inextricably altered? Such questions ask about the ways in which communities can contribute to policing, broadly cast, and the limitations or restraints on such participation.

To begin to consider the role of the community in the maintenance of social control first requires some idea of how communities might broaden social investment and outcomes. That is to say, what animates community social investment leading to social cohesion and collective efficacy? Here we are drawn back into the nostalgia of “community,” a place of deep social and emotional bonds, indelibly shaping social relations and meanings. Unfortunately, such ideas of community no longer capture modern social life nor are they seen as exerting tremendous influence on individual identities. What is shown is that levels of social capital and collective efficacy help to distinguish levels of community crime (Sampson and Groves 1989), suggesting a variable community role in such matters, depending on the presence or absence of crime and community social cohesion.

Continuing studies of communities and crime reinforce these earlier findings, yet questions concerning mechanisms for adequately increasing collective efficacy and social capital, and especially those involving the police remain unanswered. Nonetheless, there is evidence that the police need to be concerned with their instrumental and expressive contributions to community life if changes in community social cohesion and collective efficacy are to improve.

Community policing has been associated with improving community social conditions to the extent that in addressing community crime and social order problems, community fear of crime appears to subside. In short, community policing has been shown to reduce fear of crime, although not crime itself. These findings suggest that the police’s focus on crime in neighborhood settings have had the expressive by-product of reducing fear of crime.

In addition to the general effects of community policing on fear, “hot spots” policing models and assessments of them clearly represent an instrumental way of thinking (see Weisburd and Braga 2006, 225–244), that is, these findings apply where the police are evaluated by what they directly produce, most particularly their ability to make arrests and reduce reported crime. The focus on crime analysis, Compstat, and similar technologies see crime reduction through targeted and often aggressive police actions as the products of public policing. Such findings do not suggest that community social capital or collective efficacy necessarily improves as crime and fear subside; rather, these findings anticipate that such police actions will influence the underlying conditions thought to detract from community cohesion, especially community fear of victimization or retaliation. For example, Markowicz and colleagues (2001) suggest that social cohesion, disorder, and fear are linked to the extent that fear of crime may reduce an individual’s community involvements, thereby decreasing community collective efficacy.

Such findings, coupled with a long series of analyses suggesting a fear reduction outcome for community policing, support the idea that such efforts by the police might help communities find their own collective voice once some modicum of order is established (in this case by the police). But how these efforts translate to collectively stronger communities is not known. In this regard, the instrumental achievements of the police are necessary but perhaps not sufficient. Evidence of this causal sequence remains thin.

An alternative expressive model of police suggests that public confidence in the police is tied more to public concerns about community cohesion and the role of the police in protecting community values and norms than to the instrumental efforts and outcomes of the police. Here research by Jackson and Sunshine (2007) show that public evaluations of community cohesion, moral trust, and social consensus significantly condition community support for and trust of the police. Such reasoning suggests that the community is looking for police help and support for the community and its sense of control over community life. Bellair (2000) finds that informal community surveillance by neighbors – neighboring – together with residential stability positively influences neighborhood surveillance activities. But Wells and colleagues (2006) found that “.. . residents of geographic areas characterized by lower levels of collective efficacy are no more or less likely to intervene in the face of local problems than are residents of other areas (540).”

Expressive values are central to ideas of collective efficacy as it is the attachments and involvements of community members as well as the meaning such interaction provides, which define collective efficacy. Unfortunately, evidence to date does not support the notion that police support for community by reducing low levels of social disorder necessarily increases community social cohesion or collective efficacy as broader social forces shape insecurity (Jackson et al. 2009). Nonetheless, if communities are to have more involvement in matters of public safety, it is clear that expressive values need to be included in this discussion.

This research paper has examined the distinctions between police and policing, the role that communities might play in policing, and the limitations on such participation, as well as the changing role of the public police in the broad fabric of social control and public safety. Whereas 50 or so years ago, the public police had considerable monopoly on these matters, today these are shared undertakings. People are self-policing; communities and other socially based institutions shape public behavior and attitudes including those associated with crime and deviance, the justice system in all its fragments exercises control, as do other civic and economic institutions. As stated preciously, the police are charged with enforcing the law, but policing is too big to be left to the police alone. Garland (2001) refers to this as the “responsibilization strategy” suggesting that governments are relinquishing power and sovereignty by enlisting participation from citizens and nongovernmental actors to control crime. Aas (2007, 134–36) suggests the regulatory state is now composed of new technologies and rationalities shifting social control from governments to a broader base of civic involvement.

Correspondingly, conceptions of communities have changed over the years as well. Whereas the idea of community conjures ideas of social integration and collective social action formed by dense and complex social and emotional ties, today the idea of community is being reshaped in a global and technologically wired world. No doubt, some idyllic communities continue to exist, but in the main, they have become ideas in a sea of practical constraints on communal social action. Despite claims to community resurgence in social and political life, the evidence does not fully support the claim. In a late-modern world, communities and community identities have been fractured.

Globalization, information capitalism, and a culture of consumption have altered the social condition and hence our sense of what it means to be part of a community. Communities of interest, practice, communications, and belief are broadly cast and not restricted to confined geographic areas. While policing has been place bound since its inception, the policing of such a farflung enterprise perhaps calls for new forms of policing and new forms of community involvement in social control. Such forms of social control are likely to produce new strains between the police and those policed. Of course under such circumstances, it will be difficult for the police to “occupy” the community as has been the general strategy for many years. Instead sharing information and at times following community leadership will challenge the institution of the police, which has been characterized as police centric in its ways of doing business.

In a globalized world with internationalized crime and much broader community connections policing in the twenty-first century and beyond will likely be confronted with the need to expand its role from crime fighting to peacekeeping, while at the same time being engaged in what are new and emerging forms of governance (see Aas 2007, 186–189). The crime implications of globalization include among others cyber-crime, terrorism, and the global trafficking of people, weapons, and drugs. At the same time, globalization also shifts people across the world and seeks greater connection among groups who were previously marginalized. In the Western world and elsewhere, this has involved issues of immigration, and often difficult responses to migrant peoples. As these “new communities” emerge supported by a wide array of human rights groups, policing will need to once again consider the underlying values that have historically undergird state-sponsored police. As Aas suggests (2007, 189) “issues of national justice can no longer be separated from issues of global justice.” In a globalized world, crime and community identity are far reaching and notions of communities and the police yet evolving.


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